Could the White House use regulatory powers to withhold funds from institutions like long-term-care facilities that they think aren’t doing enough to encourage employee or customer vaccinations? Not only can it, but Biden administration officials are having preliminary conversations about it, according to unnamed sources quoted in a Washington Post article on Friday, 

This would broaden the scope of the administration’s efforts to bump up vaccination rates in health care facilities and other places like universities and cruise ships. Late last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a mandate for frontline healthcare workers to get vaccinated or face possible termination of employment.

“The conversations are in the early phases and no firm decisions have been made,” the Washington Post reported. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment from the McKnight’s Business Daily before publication deadline.

Advocacy groups are opposed to federal action that would withhold funds from long-term care.

“We take issue with withholding Medicare reimbursement because providers need funding to cover the services they are providing today,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, told McKnight’s on Friday. “Many providers are already working far beyond what they are actually paid/reimbursed for the services they deliver because of the exponential and unexpected expenses of COVID. It’s frightening to think about what would happen if they stopped getting paid for their work.” 

She added that if the administration is proposing this new enforcement tactic, then it should apply to all healthcare providers, and not just long-term care.  

“Staff, residents, and others in long-term care organizations move frequently around the healthcare system. Ensuring vaccinations only among those in long-term care wouldn’t mean real protection — if they aren’t safe as soon as they go to the hospital or dentist’s office,” Sloan said.

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living in a statement stressed that the administration should support, not hurt, the industry’s efforts to increase vaccination among staff. 

“Long-term care providers continue to work with their staff and residents to educate, offer and encourage COVID-19 vaccination,” the group said in a statement to McKnight’s on Friday. “While we recognize we have more work to do on increasing staff vaccination rates, we have made significant progress since the beginning of the year.” 

The association noted that after the first on-site clinics in nursing homes, roughly 37% of staff chose to get the vaccine. Today, 61% are vaccinated. 

“We have found that it takes a multipronged, persistent approach to help increase vaccination rates,” the organization said. “We hope the Biden administration will look for ways to support our ongoing efforts.”